With hurricane season underway, there are storms forming

Shannon Weiner, executive director of Monroe County Emergency Management, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s going on in the county.

Hurricane season is here and Hurricane Beryl is the first one on the charts.

Weiner said, “Even though it looks like that storm is going to pass to the south, our partners at the National Weather Service Key West will continue to keep an eye on it and keep us updated here at the county. But they did want to highlight for us that AL 96 is out there behind Beryl. If you look at the at the National Hurricane Center maps, you’ll see that there’s a there’s a big red blob out there and that has a high chance of formation, looking around 70% into forming at least into a tropical depression. We look at the longitude and we kind of target the 45 longitude, and that’s a marker for us in emergency management, when we’re watching those storms with the National Weather Service, because that’s when we know we really need to heighten our level of surveillance and preparation. So once a storm crosses the 45 longitude, we are really, really monitoring it tightly. So that’s our point where we start to think about taking preparatory and preventative measures here in the county. So Al 96 is going across that 45 longitude by Tuesday morning. It’s looking like it may take a similar path as Beryl, but until that time, that’s a that’s a benchmark for us, that 45 longitude. So from there forward, that’s when we will begin to really start strategizing and planning and moving things around and communicating very, very closely with our partners in the community.”

While county offices are closed on July 4, monitoring will continue.

Weiner said, “We absolutely do, in particular this time of year and it’s really busy. I encourage all residents, of course and our visitors to always keep an eye out particularly during hurricane season. You can never be too prepared and having that awareness of what’s going out on out there in the tropics is going to allow you to provide for better safety for your family, help make our community safer and I encourage everyone to have that plan, absolutely for sure. Here in Monroe County you want to have a plan to shelter at home if we’re going to shelter in county for a Category One or a tropical storm or a low end Category Two, but you also want to have that go bag and have a plan to be able to evacuate if needed because those Category Three storms are catastrophic here and they bring a lot of storm surge. People don’t think about it, those bigger storms but they do and that could be in and of itself deadly. Here in the Keys, our geographic structure is what makes us so vulnerable to that storm surge. The good thing about surge is it comes and goes. It doesn’t stand like a lot of flooding that you get on the mainland. But nevertheless with those big category three storms or higher it can be deadly and we don’t want our residents here to put themselves in that kind of harm’s way.”

The Emergency Operations Center is almost ready to go in Marathon.

Weiner said, “This is a project that has been in the planning since I believe 2019, when the county first applied for a grant from FEMA, to build the new EOC. We were able to receive the grant and start the actual planning of the development of the construction of the building in 2021. If you drive by, you can see the building on the southwest corner of the airport property in Marathon. It’s getting close, we’re not in there yet. So we hope to be in there before the peak of hurricane season, hopefully, sometime this month, or early August. But I have to tell you, it’s an incredible building, it’s 28,000 square feet, it’s wind loaded to up to 250 miles per hour. The infrastructure inside, it’ll allow us to be self sufficient for 96 hours. We have a tank that holds 5,000 gallons of water, and 10,000 gallons of wastewater. The facility has two generators, you only need one to run the building, but the other is a backup. It will fully run the building to even include the elevators and we have dormitory space that can sleep 24 individuals, in addition to, lots of people sleep in the offices as well. We talk about blue skies in emergency management and gray skies, and in our blue skies day, that dormitory space transforms to training rooms and meeting rooms. So we’re really excited to be able to offer that option for use of space to our EOC partners when we get everything online here, but I am very excited, because it is getting close and we’re looking forward to being able to have a safe place for our first responders and our community partners to work through a storm prior to, during and post storm that we can just make recovery and response so much quicker in this county.”

For all these years, Monroe County didn’t have a dedicated EOC.

Weiner said, “It’s interesting, because I speak with other emergency managers throughout the state. We often share ideas and solutions and challenges and they all say to me, oh my goodness, I could never be the emergency manager in Monroe County, you’re so vulnerable. You don’t have an EOC. I say, really, in Monroe County, our strength is in our partnerships and our community. Having gone to responses in other counties and having worked in other counties, I can tell you that Monroe County, just the people hear in all sectors, not just local government, state, federal, the private sector, the not for profit, this is a community that really comes together to support each other in times of need and crisis and I feel very fortunate to work here with or without a new EOC. But obviously very happy to have one.”

A hurricane preparedness exercise took place in June.

Weiner said, “June 14, Monroe County Emergency Management hosted what we call our county wide hurricane exercise. This is an exercise that we are required to do by the state, but we are happy to do and even if we were weren’t required, I wouldn’t want to miss out. This is when we actually stand up the EOC and bring all of our partners in and this year, we had about 87 participants in the room. We partner with the National Weather Service Key West. They develop a scenario for us for a storm and we basically walk through it. It allows us to meet and greet people who are new to their position and to the EOC and allows us to practice working together and allows us to test our communication systems. It allows us to test our computer systems and our radio systems and it’s like a big refresher for those that have been before. But a lot of things change too. We get new computer systems, we get upgrades, we find a better way to do things to work better, and it’s our time to be able to bring our partners in to orient them to all of that and put it all together as one. This year’s scenario included a catastrophic storm that came across the Lower Keys, primarily impacting Key West. The scenario let us see lesser impacts from Marathon north with the heavy impacts in Key West and it allowed us to work with them and practice how we would support Key West, how we would move resources in, what they would be looking at needing communications wise and unmet needs wise. So it was a really good exercise. They appreciated this scenario being heavy focus on Key West this year and I think that everyone had a really good experience overall.”

Despite June being quiet, you still need a plan.

Weiner said, “We haven’t had a storm yet. So make sure you have that plan. If you haven’t bought non perishable foods and you haven’t bought water. Now’s the time. Get your pet prescriptions filled, get your prescriptions filled, make sure you have some backup for your pets, when it comes to food as well. Make sure you put a stash of cash away to have on hand. Because remember, we can lose electric and internet and cash is king at the end of the day. So we want we want you to be prepared. Have an emergency contact, have someone out of the county that you can check in with, that they can check in, too, and know that you’re safe or know what your plan was if you were staying or if you were evacuating or that type of thing. Have that family safety plan and be prepared because we know a lot of storms will come and go, but it only takes one.”

Weiner heads up the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association.

She said, “What a wonderful opportunity. I appreciate our County Administrator, Kevin Wilson and before him Roman Gastesi. They were very supportive of my participation in that organization because I’m able to bring back so much knowledge and information and experience to the county and build a great network of support. EM is a small community of directors, there’s 67 of us across the state, and we do go support each other if you’re that impacted EOC and you need help and vice versa. So it is a great relationship. They are great relationships to have and to support each other. It’s a good community and it’s one of the things that I enjoy best about my profession is it’s all about the partnerships.”